Saturday, June 21, 2008

Talking Smart About Storytelling

I attended a two-day seminar on story with a group of Christians back East not long ago, and came away really underwhelmed. I have been thinking about it since and how superficial the discussion was compared to the ongoing discussion about the same topic in which the Christians in Hollywood have been engaged. You could pop in to a beginner session at any Act One event and hear much more profound, and ground-breaking ideas than anything I hear out there in Christian circles outside of Hollywood. I attended the event hoping to get some insight and move my understanding forward a bit in this most crucial area, but all I left with was the itch to try and do better. The problem is, the artists/storytellers and the Christian community are talking past one another, in different dimensions.

So, from a pastoral aspect, it seems time to try and get a conversation going. But a high-level one. And by that I don't necessarily mean academic. I mean, lets listen to people who have experience and chops as storytellers, and let's seriously see if there is any guidance for them in their creative task to be had from thinkers in the Church today. We are going to hold our own conference which has the working title "A Conversation on Storytelling in the 21st Century."

Also, Act One will be celebrating its tenth anniversary year in 2009. We see this conference as kicking off the celebrations for the year by a moment of reflection on what we have learned and on what we still need to brood.

So, in collaboration with the Magis Institute, Act One will soon be hosting "A Conversation on Storytelling in the 21st Century." We're looking at this event to go off sometime in late September or early October here in Hollywood.

I am going to share the notes of our initial planning discussion for this event, because I am looking for several things from folks out there who might want to be part. Specifically we are looking for the following:

- suggestions of thinkers and storytellers whom we should consider as panelists
- co-sponsoring organizations for the event
- a publisher to turn it into a book
- someone to do a web page for the event as a means to promote but also to continue the discussion possibly afterward
- people who want to get dibs in early to be one of the lucky fifty people who will get to be an audience to the discussion

Fall 2008

Hosted by Act One: Hollywood and The Magis Institute

Our point is to respond to the call of John Paul II in his Letter to Artists to "renew that fruitful dialogue between the Church and the arts." Most of us in who will be part of the conversation have seats on both sides of the dialogue table as members of the Church, and also members of the art/entertainment world, which should make this conversation completely unique in the panoply of media conferences, which are exclusively either religious or secular. Act One's special vocation is to be both/and.

I. Fruits of the conference will be:
- our attendees, many of whom are storytellers will get some new ideas/goals to bring to their efforts in the culture
- we'll transcribe the talks and discussion and produce a book
- the discussion will be recorded to be distuted via podcasting and CD's

II. Format

2 days. Eight topics to be engaged in hour-long discussions. The topics will be introduced with twenty minutes of brilliant thoughts by invited panelists.

III. Who Can Attend? How much?

It depends. If we get a surge of interest, we could hold it at a large venue like the WGA or DGA theaters. But this could be a lot of hassle. For now, we will plan to hold it in a cozier space - and open up a gallery for a limited number of audience members who might want to observe the discussion and who may be invited to participate with questions.

Maybe charge attendees $100 (no meals included)?

IV. Dream list of panelists/discussion leaders to invite:

- Dana Goia, Chairman, Nat'l Endowment for the Arts
- Dallas Willard, USC School of Religion, author The Divine Conspiracy
- Representative from the Pontifical Council for Culture, Vatican
- Dr. Peter Kreeft, Boston College, author of 874 great books
- Somebody from the story department at Pixar
- Any of the amazing panoply of Act One faculty members including: Bobette Buster, Chris & Kathy Riley, Barbara Hall, Karen Hall, Ron Austin, Scott Derrickson, Dean Batali, John Tinker, David McFadzean, Chuck Slocum, Linda Seger, Sean Gaffney, Barbara Nicolosi, Charlie Carner, Spencer Lewerenz
- Rev. Tim Kelleher, Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC
- Dr. Tom Dillon, President, Thomas Aquinas College
- Todd Field, director In the Bedroom, Little Children

Who else are we missing? Who would have something deep to say about the nature of narrative, its goals, power and ethics? I'm looking for ideas.

V. Possible Questions for "A Conversation on Storytelling in the 21st Century"

- Can a story offer healing to a person/a society and how?

- Ethical questions - What are people reaching for when they show up to get a story? What do we owe them? What does the world need for people to be getting from stories?

- What is a hero in 21st Century storytelling?

- Looking at character choices - irrevocable, visual, active, high stakes - what do these mean and why does the audience need them?

- The Great One: What Did Flannery O'Connor know about paradox in storytelling that we have all forgotten?

- Theme: What do we mean when we say a story needs to be universal? What does structure have to do with theme?

- A brief history of storytelling and where are we know (in terms of structure/theme/method/ dsitribution)? What is coming next?

- What makes a for a brilliant/healing ending in a story? (Resolution, Satisfaction, leave work for the audience to do - what do these mean?)

- Considering Developmental needs in stories - what do little kids, adolescents, gen x, boomers each need in their stories?

- Is Aristotle's Poetics still relevant? What is a "cathartic experiene of fear? of pity?" What is a "beautiful" story according to the smart Dead Greeks.

- What process do great storytellers use? (Pixar)

- In the Church: Sermon on the Mount (for the disciples) vs. Parable (for the unfriendly crowds). Is there a role for storytelling in the church?

- Darkness & Story- how dark can you go? When have you gone too far?

- Marketability for Christian content- transcendent in storytelling. What has happened since The Passion wave, and what have we learned about shopping a story with transcendant themes?

- Why does bad work like "Bella" and "Facing the Giants" attract so many Christians? (ONLY KIDDING!...We won't try and answer this last question until the debrief party in a bar with plenty of alcohol around!)

VI. How to be a part?

1. Send donations to support the event to here. Or by mail to: Act One, Inc., Conversation on Story Conference, 2690 N. Beachwood Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90068

Donations to the event are tax deductible as Act One, Inc. is a 501c3 non-profit.

2. If you have ideas about any of the above, know of an organization that might be interested in sponsoring the event, or a magazine/publisher that might want to publish it, or would like to participate as a panelist or audience member, please send an email to Conference Co-odinator, Vicki Peterson at

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